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McKeon frames Afghan war

Congressman reflects on trip to Afghanistan, Guantanamo

Posted: August 11, 2009 8:17 p.m.
Updated: August 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon describes his trip to Afghanistan at a news conference Tuesday in his Santa Clarita Valley office.

 

 
The fight in Afghanistan will be a battle of hearts and minds, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon said Tuesday during a news conference at his Santa Clarita Valley office.

McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, recently appointed ranking Republican of the House Armed Services Committee, swooped into the Santa Clarita Valley on Tuesday in a Blackhawk helicopter, fresh off of a six-day whirlwind tour of Afghanistan that ended Saturday.

The trip offered him a different perspective on the war on terror, McKeon said.

“The mission is to separate physically and mentally the Taliban from the people,” he said. The Taliban is the regime that controlled Afghanistan prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

The U.S. invaded the country, saying it was a safe haven for terrorists, including al-Qaida.

Removing the entrenched Taliban is one-part military might and one-part economic persuasion, McKeon said.  

“You have two different types of Taliban: big ‘T’ and little ‘T,’” he said.

The “big-T” Taliban are bent on terrorism, while the “little-T” ones are those who are only involved with the group because it provides economic incentive, McKeon said.

“This is the second-poorest country in the world,” he said.

A battle over hearts and minds was waged in Iraq, and McKeon noted the difference between the Iraqi War and the challenges faced in Afghanistan.

“The Shia and the Sunni don’t get along,” McKeon said, noting the religious tension in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, the problems are poverty and the nation’s proclivity to wage war against foreign invaders.

“They’ve been fighting for 30 years. They fought the Soviet Union,” he said.

However, the war is one the United States can’t afford to lose, he said.

“Because of their location, they are a harbor for terrorists,” McKeon said of Afghanistan.

The country wasn’t the only place McKeon visited since ascending to his position on the House Armed Services Committee.

He also went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to visit the prison housing suspected terrorists deemed enemy combatants by President George Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“I wanted to look at it firsthand,” McKeon said. “Politically it’s a hot potato, because we don’t want (the accused terrorists) in the States.”

McKeon’s trip to Guantanamo Bay reinforced his belief that the accused terrorists should continue to be housed in the military facility.

He continues to oppose President Barack Obama’s plan to relocate the inmates housed at Guantanamo Bay to stateside prisons.

“They could stir things up many times,” he said.

McKeon said he fears mixing the accused terrorists with the U.S. inmate population because it could breed homegrown terrorism.

The congressman returned to California on Sunday and toured military bases in his 25th Congressional District on Monday. McKeon visited the Fort Irwin and Twentynine Palms military bases during his tour.

 

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